What Is ClickHole?
For decades now, The Onion has shared the sort of outrageous absurdity that couldn’t possibly be true. Nonetheless, their satire is sometimes mistaken for genuine news, with hilarious consequences.
Nothing is safe from the penetrating gaze of The Onion. With ClickHole, they’ve set their sights on the BuzzFeeds and Upworthies of the world.
The attack is merciless, and very, very funny. However, this time The Onion just may have veered a little too far into the world of shameless hypocrisy.
To understand ClickHole, we first need to understand the phenomenon it’s satirising.
BuzzFeed and Upworthy are two of the most popular websites in the world. Their growth has been incredible. BuzzFeed has tripled its monthly unique visitor counts over the last two years, soaring from 4.3 million to 19.3 million. Meanwhile, Upworthy are one of the fastest growing media sites of all time. They have risen from around 1 million visitors in its early months, to over 20 million unique visitors each month today.
How did they manage such a stratospheric rise in traffic? Through creating the sort of engaging content that people like to share across social media, generally written in the form of a list, with the sort of enticingly-worded title that’s simply impossible to ignore.
We often refer to these as “clickbait” articles, with “linkbait” titles; the implication being that we’re powerless to resist such content. We’re drawn to it like fish to a lure.
What’s So Bad About BuzzFeed and Upworthy?
So why have these websites invited the wrath of The Onion?
Two reasons. First of all, this is how satire works. The moment something becomes big enough, it becomes ripe for the prodding. That The Onion has gone to the trouble of creating an entire new website to satirise BuzzFeed and Upworthy might simply be a reflection of just how popular these sites are at the moment.
But more likely, The Onion have targeted these BuzzWorthy sites for the same reason that many others have targeted these sites – because their content is shallow, fluffy, and more often than not it’s little more than a front for insidious native advertising.
It’s this sort of vapid content that The Onion are attacking with ClickHole. One of the first pieces of content to be uploaded to the site was a sort of manifesto. It reads:
Let’s be honest: Today, the average website carelessly churns out hundreds of pieces of pandering, misleading content, most of which tragically fall short of going viral.
At ClickHole, we refuse to stand for this. We strive to make sure that all of our content panders to and misleads our readers just enough to make it go viral. You see, we don’t think anything on the internet should ever have to settle for mere tens of thousands of pageviews. We believe that each and every article—whether about pop culture, politics, internet trends, or social justice—should be clicked on and shared by hundreds of millions of internet users before they can even comprehend what they just read.
ClickHole has one and only one core belief: All web content deserves to go viral.
The page goes on to describe ClickHole users (and, by implication, BuzzFeed and Upworthy users) as “nothing more than an empty vessel existing purely to share content with other empty vessels. If every vessel does its part, we can make sure our children inherit a world free from non-viral content.”
The content they’ve uploaded so far is genuinely hilarious, and should strike a chord for anybody who’s ever rolled their eyes at a clickbaity link. 10 hilarious chairs that think they’re people! 16 pictures of Beyonce where she’s not sinking in quicksand! You get the idea.
I know I’m hardly making some kind of scathingly astute observation, but never mind: With ClickHole, The Onion are essentially satirising shallow, clickbait content that acts as a front for lucrative adverts with… shallow, clickbait content that acts as a front for lucrative adverts.
ClickHole’s launch was “presented by” Jack Link’s Beef Jerky, and at the foot of each article is exactly the sort of “sponsored content” that’s used to generate revenue for the likes of BuzzFeed and Upworthy.
Yes, this searing satire will doubtlessly go viral and generate The Onion a large amount of ad revenue.
I appreciate that this is probably the whole point. But now that they’ve made their point, will ClickHole gracefully disappear, or will they continue to churn out low-quality, high-impact content and reap the rewards of the ad revenue?
Will they force us to reconsider our choice of media outlet, or will they instead give us yet another bookmark for our phones and browsers; yet another place where we can waste countless hours consuming amusing, unchallenging and branded content?